Mark Twain once wrote that “the trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren't so.” And that’s certainly true in the case of our sweetener choices.
How many of these myths did you think were actually true? (Be honest.)
Scientific research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed 23 studies where children were given foods or drinks containing either sugar or a placebo. The participants were double-blinded, meaning that neither knew which foods or drinks had sugar and which did not.
The study looked at the reactions of the children and concluded that “sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.”
Hyperactivity can be caused by a sharp spike in blood sugar levels. Whether eating a food causes a quick increase in blood sugar can be measured using the glycemic index (GI). Foods containing simple sugars that quickly convert to blood sugar have a high GI (such as baked potatoes). Apples, on the other hand, have a low GI. Table sugar itself has a moderate (not high) glycemic index.
So why do parents assume that giving their kids sugary treats will cause them to become hyper? The study explains that “the strong belief of parents may be due to expectancy and common association. However, a small effect of sugar or effects on subsets of children cannot be ruled out.” So at best, sugar-crazed kids are the exception, not the rule.
Corn syrup, like the kind you might find in your kitchen cabinet, is unlike table sugar because it contains no fructose. In order to make corn syrup taste more like the sugar we’re used to, scientists developed a method of naturally boosting the amount of fructose in corn syrup to make it comparable to table sugar.
Calling HFCS “high” in fructose is a misnomer, because it has no more fructose than table sugar or honey.
Specifically, there are two common types of HFCS: “HFCS-55” and “HFCS-42,” which contain 55 percent fructose and 42 percent fructose, respectively. The remainder is made up of glucose.
For comparison, table sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS-55 has a similar fructose ratio to honey.
HFCS-55, the variety found in many soft drinks and other grocery products, was designed to be equal in sweetness to sucrose so that they could be used interchangeably without consumers noticing a difference in taste. HFCS-55, which is commonly used in soft drinks, is composed of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Food producers also use HFCS-45, which is less sweet than sugar and HFCS-55 in many baked goods, jams and jellies, and cereals. HFCS-45 contains 45 percent fructose and 55 percent glucose.
People enjoy foods. But even people with a big sweet tooth do not suffer from withdrawal if they stop eating sweets. Addiction is a behavior disorder with physical symptoms.
Although sweet foods do not produce physical or psychological dependency, sugar consumption can lead to good feelings in two ways: from an increase in serotonin levels in the brain, or from the rise in glucose in the bloodstream. In fact, one study found that men who consumed chocolate felt less lonely and depressed than men who were not fond of it.
Some research demonstrates that lean people actually eat more sugar (and less fat) than obese people. A 2005 study in Obesity Reviews found that in 91% of countries examined, overweight youth consumed sweets less frequently than normal-weight youth.
Fundamentally, all sweeteners are carbohydrates. Whenever we eat foods with carbohydrates, such as table sugar, honey, or a potato—the body breaks these foods down into usable energy.
Sugar itself generally has trace amounts of nutrients, but people rarely eat spoonfuls of sugar by itself. Sugars like glucose or fructose are often part of foods like fruits, which contain a variety of vitamins and other nutrients.
Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses. The added molasses does provide a few trace nutrients not found in white sugar, but these nutrients are are too few to provide any nutritional benefit. The same is true for honey and its trace nutrients.
The simple truth is that sugar is sugar. All different kinds of sugar are broken down into simple molecules that the body uses as energy.
Diabetes is the result of either the body not making enough insulin or of its cells not responding to insulin. The myth that eating too much sugar causes diabetes probably came from doctors ordering diabetic patients not to consume any sugar. However, the American Diabetes Association notes that “this is not true.”
Sugar is sugar. The body treats sugars all the same. Whether you eat a simpler sugar, such as fructose, or a more complex carbohydrate like starch, the body will digest them all the same.
Sugar is a basic fuel for the body. Consuming sugar in moderation is good for the body and is an easy source of energy. However, eating too much sugar (such as by eating too much of any food food) can lead to weight gain.
Almost any food left on your teeth for too long will lead to tooth decay over time. This includes candy, bread, and even fruit. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to practice good dental hygiene. Brush and floss twice a day and, of course, visit your dentist regularly.
All major caloric sweeteners require some processing before use. This includes table sugar, honey, brown sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. After all, sugar cubes don’t grow on trees.
The Food and Drug Administration considers cane sugar, beet sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup “natural.,” meaning it contains “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
There’s little perceptible difference between sugar from sugar beets and sugar from sugar cane. Sugar cane generally tolerates warmer climates better than sugar beets, and the extraction of sugar is a different process in each. Sugar cane has a longer production process in which it is crushed and treated with a liquid before the sugary syrup is separated in a centrifuge. Beets are sliced, and then the sugar is extracted in a hot water diffuser before being refined.
The end result for the human body is the same either way. Sugar is sugar. Whether it comes from cane, beets, or corn, your body will digest it the same way.
Sugar does more than just make food sweet. Nutritive sweeteners (those with calories) are used for browning baked goods such as scones or breads. They give texture to candy and help keep food from going stale. Sugar can even help keep flowers fresh.
Along with being a source of quick energy, the American Dietetic Association recognizes that sugars add “taste, aroma, texture and color” to foods.
Nutritive sweeteners also act as a preservative, help bread dough to rise, cancel out harsh and bitter tastes in foods, and help foods retain their moisture. Replacing sugar in a recipe can lead to unexpected results, as many amateur chefs have discovered.
Some diets, such as the South Beach Diet and Atkins Diet, ask participants to severely limit carbohydrates. The low-carb craze has sparked a lot of controversy, and many doctors have warned that low-carb diets can actually be dangerous.
Much of the weight initially lost on a low-carbohydrate diet is water weight, not fat loss. And often the weight is quickly regained as soon as dieters resume eating carbohydrates. Instead of chasing a quick fix from a trendy diet plan, it’s a better idea to focus on getting more exercise and eating less.
Slow and steady weight loss is more likely to be sustainable, and a moderate diet and exercise plan will help ensure the body still meets its daily nutrient needs. Cutting out too much food could lead to muscle loss. Staying consistent and balanced is key to reaching your weight goals.
A 1989 BBC documentary helped perpetuate the myth that sugar is related to wrinkles. One of the researchers interviewed for the documentary, Dr. Anna Furth, claimed that damage to the body’s proteins (which causes wrinkles) is a result of sugar circulating in the blood.
But this process can’t be stopped by limiting sugar. That’s because carbohydrates (like sugars) are necessary for our brain and body to function. In fact, scientists found that fatty foods cooked at high temperatures actually contained the most wrinkle-causing agents.
A balanced diet that provides a wide range of necessary vitamins and minerals is the best way to keep your skin looking young and healthy.
Maple syrup has been produced the same way for centuries. First, a “tap” is inserted into a maple tree near the ground. Sap from the maple tree flows out through the tap and into a collection bucket. Because the sap is mostly water, it is then boiled until the water evaporates. The remaining liquid is maple syrup.
In order for maple syrup to be labeled organic, several criteria must be met that not all producers go through. Certain chemicals can’t be used in tree tapping or in managing the forests. The numbers of taps in a tree must also be limited so that the health of the trees can be sustained.
Some people incorrectly believe that honey is healthier than table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Honey contains trace amounts of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that other sweeteners lack.
You would have to consume enormous amounts of honey on a regular basis to receive any significant benefit from these nutrients.
The truth is that honey, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup all contain the same number of calories: four per gram. But because honey is denser, one tablespoon of honey contains more calories (64) than a tablespoon of granulated sugar (46).
Weight gain is, ultimately, a matter of “calories in” versus “calories out.” The balance (or imbalance) of energy determines weight gain or loss. If you eat too much honey, you will gain weight—just as you will if you eat too much table sugar, or too much of any other food.
The old wives’ tale that eating local honey will get rid of seasonal allergies comes from confusion about different kinds of pollens. The theory is that because bees use pollen to make honey, eating a little bit of local honey helps your body build a tolerance and avoid an allergic reaction to local pollen. This is not true.
The type of pollen that bees use to make honey is different from the kind of pollen that causes allergies. Bees use pollen from flowers, which is sticky and not blown around with the wind. Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds is light and easily blown around—and that’s what makes you reach for the tissues every spring.
Table sugar has a moderate (not high) glycemic index. So table sugar doesn’t cause an abnormally high spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash in blood sugar levels. Sugar “crashes” and “highs” are simply not a reality.
"There's no evidence to support the idea that mid-afternoon tiredness is caused by hypoglycemia, or that healthy people feel normal fluctuations in blood sugar," says Dr. Phillip Cryer of the Washington University School of Medicine. "The threshold for symptoms of low blood sugar is 50 to 55 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood, and it's very, very rare for a healthy person to get to those levels."
Apples and papayas actually contain a higher percentage of fructose than sweeteners like honey or high fructose corn syrup.
But saying that fruits are bad for you would turn the food pyramid on its head. Along with modest amounts of sugar, fruits contain essential nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.
Molasses can be made from sugar beets or sugar cane, just like table sugar. The juice from the plants is pressed out and then boiled to create molasses.
Molasses is a source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron. But the amount of these nutrients in molasses is not significant enough to make a difference in your diet unless you eat an abnormal amount.
If you eat too much molasses, of course, you will gain weight. The same goes for eating too much of any calorie-containing food.
Sugar is sugar is sugar. The human body can break down different carbohydrates and produce the same thing in your bloodstream: glucose. Different kinds of sugar are in common use all over the world. But as New York University nutritionist and author Dr. Marion Nestle admits, “the body can hardly tell them apart.”
Some fruit juices used “stripped juice” from grapes, pears, or apples. That juice is stripped of its flavor, and is effectively sugar water added to other juices like raspberry or cranberry juice to boost their sweetness. Stripped juices are often found in so-called 100 percent fruit juice drinks.
Honey is classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture into seven color categories: water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber and dark amber. Beekeepers use the Pfund grade to analyze the exact categories of their honey.
The color of honey is determined by the different flora that are used by the bees in making honey. Honey can become darker with storage or lighter after it granulates. The factors that are used for grading the quality of honey include the aroma, flavor, clarity, and absence of defects.
Generally, lighter honeys have a milder flavor and darker honeys have a bolder flavor, similar to the differences among maple syrups. Coloring is an indicator of the different tastes of honey, but it does not indicate quality. Some people enjoy dark beers more than light beers, just as some people enjoy the taste of dark (or light) honeys more than other kinds. It’s simply a matter of preference.
This myth is interesting given the process for making tequila. Tequila is made by harvesting agave plants and pressing out the juices into vats. Then yeast is added to ferment the juice.
Tequila production uses juice from the blue agave, but agave nectar can come from the juices of other kinds of agave plants as well. Agave nectar is made by filtering the juice through enzymes and then heating it. This process is very different from the fermentation that results in a bottle of liquor.
Unlike high fructose corn syrup or sugar, agave nectar is actually 70 percent fructose.
Lactose intolerance is the inability of the body to digest lactose, a common sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance is also linked to genetics. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant--at least 1,000 times the number who have HFI—but most of those cases are extremely mild.
This myth comes from a misunderstanding of how maple syrup is produced. Maple syrup comes from “tapping” trees so that a syrupy liquid flows out and can be collected. Early in the sugaring season, the syrup is lighter. As the season continues and the days get warmer, the syrup becomes darker.
There’s no rule of thumb for how much light and dark syrup is produced in a season. Some seasons see mostly light syrup, while other see more dark syrup.
A key difference between dark and light maple syrups is the taste. Dark syrup has a bolder taste with more caramel flavor. It’s often used for cooking, baking, and flavoring special foods. Lighter syrups have a milder, more delicate flavor.
Carob comes from a Mediterranean tree and is used as a substitute for chocolate. Carob powder is similar to cocoa powder.
Some people believe carob is a healthier alternative to chocolate. While carob does not contain caffeine or theobromine (the chemical that makes chocolate toxic to dogs), it does contain similar amounts of sugar, calories and saturated fat compared to chocolate.
Whichever you choose to eat, it’s important to remember that both carob and chocolate should be consumed in moderation.
Vegans believe that eating honey is wrong because the honey-making process relies on “exploitation” of honeybees. But there are a couple of inherent contradictions in this.
First, commercial bees are used in the production of hundreds of foods that vegans eat, such as avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, and pears. Also, organic farmers who produce vegetables and fruits often spray natural chemicals and pesticides that kill off bees and other insects.
In fact, vegans themselves are debating this topic. Can bees even feel pain, as an animal does? If vegans trying to be ethically “pure” move from animal rights to insect rights, they might find themselves walking very carefully to avoid squashing an ant.
Unlike sugar, the government does not control or support the price of high fructose corn syrup. And although the government does provide some assistance to some farmers, it does not subsidize the price of the products made from those crops.
Because of a variety of factors, high fructose corn syrup is less expensive than sugar. Beyond that, it also has a number of important characteristics that food produces utilize.